Had the VRC agreed to move its carnival back to the first week of December, it would have bought an extra four weeks’ notice to prepare for crowds.
Victorian Minister for Sports and Major Events, Martin Pakula, had an online phone hook-up with sporting body chiefs and racing club administrators on Friday, where VRC chief executive Neil Wilson expressed a desperate need for clarity in order to prepare for the biggest week in racing.
Unlike some of the other sporting codes which compete in stadiums that won’t require additional seating, the VRC faces a race against the clock to organise temporary infrastructure to cater for Cup week crowds.
Flemington hosted 276,186 people across the four days of last year’s carnival despite horrible weather throughout the week. More than 81,000 people attended last year’s Melbourne Cup.
Normally, the VRC would begin construction on marquees and bars by the middle of August but a club spokesperson said it would remain flexible until the 11th hour to cater for crowds. But the later the notice, the fewer people the VRC will be able to cater for.
Crowds in the vicinity of 60,000 will require at least two months’ notice, however the VRC is capable of catering for smaller crowds at shorter notice. The club has insisted the Melbourne Cup will go ahead on the first Tuesday of November, even without a crowd. It’s one scenario the club has planned for as part of its contingencies.
Restrictions on the amount of people per square metre at major sporting events later in the year was also discussed in the conference call with Mr Pakula. The current one person per four square metres rule would need to be relaxed to one person every two square metres for the VRC to cater for crowds of 60,000.
About 70 owners attended Flemington’s race meeting on Saturday under strict Racing Victoria guidelines before the suburb went into a hard lockdown at midnight. The general public remains locked out of race meetings at the moment.
Flemington will remain in use for trainers and staff because it meets the government’s criteria as an essential workplace for industry participants, however it appears unlikely that owners will be permitted on course for the club’s next meeting on July 18. People living in hotspot suburbs are not permitted to attend any Victorian race meetings until otherwise advised.
All industry participants working at Flemington are subjected to daily temperature tests at the club gates.
“Both Flemington Racecourse and our horse training facility continued operations during the initial state-wide stage-three lockdown with very strict biosecurity measures in place to protect both participants and the public. Those safety measures are still in place,” a VRC spokesperson said.
“With the re-imposition of stage-three restrictions on the suburb of Flemington, we will work with government, industry and health authorities to ensure we continue to comply with the guidelines during the ongoing operation of the course and horse training facility.”
Damien Ractliffe is the Chief Racing Reporter for The Age.
Samantha is the The Age’s CBD columnist. She recently covered Victorian and NSW politics and business for News Corp, and previously worked for the Australian Financial Review.